Vive La Différence
As everyone prepared for the two greatest dog shows in the world, Westminster and Crufts, few, if any, would have correctly forecast how the year would unfold. For a few, coronavirus has been devastating, but most of us have “weathered the storm” and hopefully will continue to do so, although what we once knew as “normal” may be a long time returning, if indeed it ever does.
From Roman jewelry to stone garden ornaments, Japanese embroidery to European carved ivory, bronzes to pictures, the mediums on which the dog has appeared in art seem countless. Here I offer just a small selection, some of which have appeared in online auctions during lockdown, and these have proved to be the saving grace for many sections of the antiques world.
As dog shows are beginning to start again, at least in some countries, here’s a “taster” from the 1920s. The small wood engraving from 1929 was sold by Sworders in an online auction and had been in the collection of the late Tony Venison, the long-serving garden editor of Country Life. Titled The Dog Show, it was by artist and engraver Eileen Lucy “Tirzah” Garwood (1908-1951) and depicted benched terrier breeds that were popular at the time. Walking past an exhibitor who is preparing his white dog for the ring is a fellow exhibitor leading a Dalmatian and a pack of Dachshunds and holding a handkerchief to his face: Is he trying to mask any smell or avoid inhaling chalk being sprinkled on the white dog’s coat? From an edition of 500, it easily surpassed its £150-250 estimate, selling to a private London buyer for £2,100, a price that was well in excess of previous sums for this print at auction.
Hermann Historica in Munich offered a Roman gold ring from the 2nd century AD. The slender ring flared significantly at the shoulder towards the bezel, the groove holding a carnelian intaglio depicting a dog of hound proportions leaping. For its age the ring was in outstanding condition and sold within expectations for 1,500 Euros.
In March, Cheffins sold for £750 a German ivory boar spear stand elaborately decorated and carved all round in relief with boar-hunting scenes. It was possibly 17th Century and in the manner of Johann Gottfried Frisch, a sculptor and carpenter from Lower Bavaria. Boar hunting spears are relatively short and heavy, with “wings” behind the blade.
The dogs depicted on the stand were heavy mastiff-type dogs that would have hunted and held the boar at bay, giving the hunters time to catch up and kill the boar.
Nineteenth-century bronze models of Greyhounds are among the most popular of all animalier bronzes. Pierre-Jules Mêne, Christophe Fratin, Emmanuel Frémiet, Emile Loiseau-Rousseau and a host of now unknown sculptors all modeled Greyhounds. They appear frequently at auction, but prices realized depend very much on the reputation of the sculptor, the detail of the modeling and the quality of the casting. Hannam’s Auctioneers sold in late February for £160 a very unusual French bronze Greyhound in the style of Mêne, the dog standing on a naturalistic oval base, its right front leg raised. What made it unusual was a rare hidden compartment within the body of the dog.
In the mid-1850s, Japan was forced by Western nations to open its door to the outside world after more than 200 years in self-imposed isolation. The opening of Japan led to a fascination in the West for all things Japanese, as happened with China when that country was opened to the West. This period of Japan’s history became known as the Meiji era (1868-1912). Enormously popular at the time were exquisite non-costume Japanese textiles that were made specifically for the Western market as art objects or for internal decoration.
These embroideries, dyed silk and velvet panels, tapestries and appliqué works became some of Japan’s best-known export items. They showcased Japanese craftsmanship at international exhibitions and were presented as diplomatic gifts from the Japanese imperial household and government.
Stroud Auctions sold one of these exquisite late 19th-early 20th century silk panels embroidered with a Japanese spaniel and peacock feathers, symbols of kindness, compassion, good luck, patience and benevolence. The original glazed cushion frame was labeled S Iida, Takashimaya for Iida Shinshichi, one of the leading Meiji producers of ornamental textiles.
Against an estimate of £400-800, the embroidered silk sold to a UK collector over the telephone for £5,900 against some strong competition.
Tennants in their Sporting Art sale sold a quintessential Victorian sporting picture attributed to James Hardy of a Scottish Highland scene, the mists descending over the distant mountains. In the foreground are two Highland servants, a Highland pony, an assortment of game, an English Setter and two Gordon Setters. It sold over estimate at £1,700.
Queen Victoria first visited Scotland in 1842 and became fascinated with the country, popularizing anything and everything Scottish. Artists were quick to see the commercial benefit in portraying the Scottish way of life, the sport the country offered and the landscape, even though many of these artists never visited the country throughout their lives.
Architectural and ornamental salvage is very popular with interior and garden designers. Such pieces carefully placed can lift something that is very ordinary to being a bit special and make a statement. Martin D. Johnson Antiques sold a lifesize composite stone pair of Afghan Hounds made in Italy circa 1950s/1960s for £1,500. While Greyhounds and a few other breeds are not particularly uncommon, Afghans are.